When it suits their purposes, Russia seems to have the same propensity as the US to thumb their nose at international law. Two weeks ago, Putin acquired immense international stature and prestige by halting the imminent threat of US missile strikes in Syria. Now he seems to have squandered it all by illegally seizing a Greenpeace vessel in international waters.
On September 18, Russian FSB agents illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise (by rappelling down from a helicopter) and seized, at gunpoint, the boat and all its occupants. The Greenpeace ship was in Arctic waters to protest hazardous oil drilling by the Russian company Gazprom. Earlier in the week two activists had boarded the Gazprom drill platform rig and were arrested and held without charge. However at the time the Greenpeace vessel was illegally boarded, it was in international waters. Seizing a civilian ship in international waters is piracy.
The Russian government reports the boat and activists (including two New Zealanders) are being towed to Murmansk, the nearest port. Ironically it’s the Russians accusing Greenpeace of piracy instead of the other way around. On Saturday, Russian Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov told journalists that Greenpeace had “acted too radically” and compared its protest to “Somalian-style piracy.”
“One of the Most Reckless Oil Companies on Earth.”
According to a Greenpeace Media Briefing, Gazprom, the first oil company to commence Arctic drilling, is “one of the most reckless oil companies on earth.” Greenpeace forced them to halt drilling operations a year ago after taking them to court for having an expired oil spill response (OSR) plan. Their new OSR plan isn’t available to the public. Only a summary is available on their website. The full version of Gazprom’s OSR plan can only be viewed in the company’s offices under strict restrictions. Even so, the summary raises a number of serious concerns:
- It relies on conventional clean-up measures that don’t work in ice or icy water. For example the booms they refer to can only be used during ice-free periods (only four months of the year in the Prirazlomnaya oil field).
- Much of the response equipment and personnel are based 1000 km away in Murmansk, which zmeans it would take Gazprom at least three days to mount an accident response.
- The summary plans for a worse case scenario of a 10,000 ton (73,000 barrel) spill. The Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
- Gazprom confirmed in 2011 that it doesn’t have the financial resources to mount a satisfactory response to a major well blow-out. BP is currently facing a bill for the Deepwater Horizon disaster of $42 billion – which could be increased to $90 billion if the court awards maximum penalties.
- Respected mainstream environmental groups (Pew Environment Group and US Geological Survey) are on record that it’s virtually impossible, using existing technology, to clean up spilled oil in sea ice.
- There are major concerns about Gazprom’s safety record – in December 2011, 53 people died when the Kolskaya jack-up rig capsized during towing.
- As a country, Russia has an appalling oil spill record. Each year, an estimated 5 million tons of oil leak from cracked wellheads, pipes, and other equipment (six times the amount spilled in the Deepwater Horizon disaster).
- There are serious concerns about the safety of the Prirazlomnaya platform in harsh Polar conditions:
- According to an industry whistleblower, the Prirazlomnaya platform was “cobbled together” from rusting pieces of old rigs to meet a 2012 deadline, when new environmental legislation took effect banning this type of drilling rig.
- Thus far Gazprom has refused to make public any of the platform’s safety documentation or its environmental impact assessment.
The Prirazlomnoye oil field is surrounded by national parks and wildlife sanctuaries like Nenetsky and Vaygach that are home to protected and endangered species such as the Atlantic walrus. Indigenous Peoples who rely on the Pechora Sea for fishing and hunting would also be profoundly affected by a Gazprom oil spill.
Please Sign Petition
Kiwis are asked to write to the Russian embassy in Wellington: Send a letter
Non-Kiwis should sign the petition at Release Greenpeace Activists demanding that Russia immediately release all 27 Greenpeace activists.
Reprinted from Dissident Voice